17. THE ITŌ HOUSE
An Important Cultural Property of Japan
Original location: Kanahodo, Asao Ward, Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture
Type of building: Farmhouse (nanushi/village headman’s house)
Built: Late 17th ~ early 18th century
Form: Half-hipped roof of thatch
Length (parallel to ridge): 16.4 m
Width: 9.1 m
The Itō House was the first house to be moved to Nihon Minkaen – indeed, the conservation of this minka from Kawasaki City was the issue that led to the Minkaen’s foundation in the first place (see p.3). Along with one other house from Kawasaki City, the Kiyomiya House, and several buildings from other parts of Kanagawa Prefecture, including the Kitamura House and the Iwasawa House, it constitutes the Minkaen’s “Kanagawa Regional Village”.
An important structural characteristic of the minka of Kanagawa Prefecture is the attachment of geya on all four sides, an arrangement known as Shihō Geya Zukuri. The features of this structural system can best be seen at the boundary between the earth-floored area and the raised floor. Another common feature is the simple lattice window at the front of the Hiroma, called a shishi-yoke mado (literally “window to ward off wild beasts”). Lattice windows are in fact a widespread feature of old houses throughout the Kantō area, as the examples in the Sakuda and Ōta Houses in Nihon Minkaen demonstrate.
The doma is divided into the Misobeya (store for food & miso) and Daidokoro. Three solid posts divide the boundary between the doma and the Hiroma into four bays. In the rearmost bay, a timber-floored area projects into the doma, creating a little cooking area with a suwari-nagashi (a sink used in a crouching position), and a water jar beside it. The two central bays are closed by a waist-high partition, and the bay nearest to the front is used as the entrance to the raised-floor living-room zone.
The Hiroma is the core of the house and is very spacious. There is a sunken hearth close to the center of the room, and the space in front of it combined family living with the informal reception of visitors, while the space to the rear of it was used as a kitchen. The bamboo floor of the Hiroma was covered with straw mats where required.
At the high end of the plan, beyond the Hiroma lie the Dei and Heya. The Dei, the formal guest reception room, is the only room in the house that is open and well-lit. The simplicity of this Dei, with no decorative alcove or fixed writing desk, emphasizes its antiquity. The narrow bench in the open un-floored veranda at the front of the Dei was used as its formal entrance. The Heya (a sleeping room and store) is a dark enclosed room, contrasting strongly with the Dei in front of it, and accessible only from the Hiroma.